Wednesday 22 May 2019

Kevin Myers: It's odd, yet it's true: universally, the English are just about everyone's official non-friend

Kevin Myers

I begin with a question to which I have no answer. Why do so many people hate the British? I say "British", but what they actually hate is England, and the English.

The frequent interchanging of 'England' and 'Britain' has caused a common confusion of meaning. The 'Oxford History of England' is in fact a history of Britain: the common German term for Britain is England, and many people use the terms Britain and England interchangeably.

When Barack Obama announced, through teeth so clenched that it was as if he had found one of Osama bin Laden's pubic hairs lodged there, that he was going to make "British Petroleum" pay for the damage done to Gulf, he emphasised the term "British", almost as a secret code word for 'bad' within the American lexicon. Actually, the name of the company is actually not "British Petroleum", but BP. And "British" in Obama-speak didn't mean the Scottish or the Welsh. It meant England. And universally, it really is okay to disparage England in a way that is permitted of no other country.

The Americans have no more faithful ally in the world than Britain. Hundreds of British soldiers have died in British wars of choice alongside the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet President Obama could nonetheless spontaneously evince a disdain for Britain that he never would for France or Germany or Italy -- though he may look in vain for comparably vigorous military allies from those countries.

Why do people despise the English? The British Empire? But that's been dead for generations. And was it worse than any other empire? You can cite British atrocities after the Indian Mutiny -- but they were -- (to put it mildly) no worse than the German massacres after the Herrera risings in what is now Namibia, or the routine chopping-off of hands in the Belgian Congo, or the murderous raids into the Algerian hinterland by the French Foreign Legion.

The Russians gave us the word 'pogrom', yet US Jews, who are largely descended from those who fled those pogroms, do not hate Russia the way that they seem to hate Britain (and which is perhaps one reason why the nastiest, most sadistic Hollywood villains are usually English).

Moreover, how was it possible that Noraid was allowed to flourish in the US, when the IRA's only foreign state-friend was Libya -- which was a sworn enemy of the US? And Britain was the only country that allowed its airbases to be used by the US for raids on Libya, which caused Gadaffi to arm the IRA. Yet the US still allowed Noraid to collect money to bomb Britain.

The term 'West Brit' is a term of semi-racist abuse that is still culturally acceptable in Ireland. Merely to invoke the English-origins of someone you dislike is usually a sufficient argument unto itself. When Theo Dorgan was reviewing my anthology of columns, 'More Myers', on RTE television, he sneered that I and my opinions were a typical product of a minor English public school. It is neither here nor there that I do not regard myself as British (but will never deny my 'Britishness'). The real point is that he would have not used such disdainful generalisations about a Nigerian or German or a Jew or a Palestinian, or that they would even have been broadcast.

Yes, yes, yes, we all know about the Famine, the Penal Days and the Black and Tans. But in France, Germany and Italy they don't, yet the 'Brits' seem nearly to be as unpopular there as here.

When I was stopped in France for driving my hire-car with its lights on in daytime, I was presumed to be English and was curtly told that the penalty would be an instant fine of €50: identification please. I produced my passport. The war was instantly over: indeed, Monsieur Le Flic nearly French-kissed me. "Vous êtes Irlandais!! Vous êtes bienevues!" Why? What has Ireland ever done for France? To be sure, any Frenchman can cite the many occasions when les rosbifs were a trifle de trop, from the massacre of captured French knights at Agincourt to the sinking of the French navy at Oran. But were these events worse than 1914-18, or 1939-45?

Now, the general loathing of the Brits would be thoroughly deserved if it was based on their unspeakable films: Stephen Bloody Fry in 'Five Twee Cliches, One Lovely Gay Couple, and A Stiff Upper Lip'. But I don't think it's that.

So, was it that 70 years ago this summer, the British decided to fight on, come hell or high water, until Europe was free, creating an unpayable (and therefore intolerable) debt?

Or is it that the British attitude towards the EU is simply too arrogant for mainland Europhiles to stomach? Maybe.

But none of this explains why this summer, whoever England play in the World Cup, even a Khmer Rouge/SS/Janjaweed Cannibal XI, most neutrals will be cheering for the opposition. And you probably will, too. Yet you also know that England is where many 'Irish' footballers are born, and where virtually all Irish footballers make their careers. It's odd, yet it's true: universally, the English are just about everyone's official non-friend.

kmyers@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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